For the video piece I am making, I’ve had to purchase strange and interesting items that I might not normally need. I’ve also had to visit places I’ve never been to before. I was very close to having to suit up and photograph and video bees (I managed to avoid that in the end). I’ve driven to Shrawardine in Shropshire. I’ve been on the receiving end of strange looks as I’ve set up my tripod and camera outside Shrewsbury train station. I’ve travelled the county looking for horses in fields. I’ve got on my hands and knees to get the right shot of the right sort of wet, sloppy, dark mud on top of a hill. I’ve stood in the Armory in Leeds trying to get the best possible shot of ‘lots of guns’.
I’ve cooked corned beef and cabbage. I’ve cooked corned beef and eggs. I’ve made a corned beef sandwich. I’ve crushed biscuits. I’ve poured sugar and salt into piles. I’ve hung bunting outside my house. I’ve spread honey on a plate. All of the sake of art.
My family have accepted this as all fairly normal behaviour.
It occurred to me, though, that this part of the process in creating footage for the video has helped me connect with the First World War in an interesting way. All these objects, things and places are contemporary. They weren’t hard to obtain. They still exist, yet they have a trace of a century ago. The bees aren’t the same bees that Captain Tanner kept warm with his jacket. The corned beef I purchased from Asda isn’t the same corned beef they ate in the trenches (although I’m sure the taste is very similar) and Shrawardine has elements of the last century to add to its historic charm, such as cars in the drives, and wires overhead, which mean that it isn’t the same Shrawardine that the Tanner family lived in. But through my quest to find these objects and photograph or video them, I am connecting with the stories I have recorded.
The original objects: jacket, gun, cross, biscuit, corned beef, have a network of other objects around them: bees, honey, sugar, salt, cabbage, mud, hills, Plymouth (yes, I even have a photo of Plymouth), a horse, train station, guns, bunting, buttons, bread. I find it interesting that I can connect to the First World War through an object that is not usually associated with that conflict, or one which may only be loosely associated. In their essence, these objects have hardly changed in the last 100 years, they still taste, smell, sound, look, and / or feel the same as they did then. So it is possible to connect through modern objects to a point in time using our senses. I feel that I am connecting with the First World War with my senses in this way and it is having an effect on me. I’ve learnt a lot through this process.
So it is not only through touching and photographing original objects from a century ago, such as letters, medals, equipment, treasures and documents, that we can feel something of past lives and events. It didn’t occur to me before that that could be achieved through contemporary objects.
Time now for a corned beef sandwich, one which hasn’t been anywhere near a First World War trench.